August 11, 2010

Presentations - Good, Bad and Ugly

School bells will start ringing soon and probably not a moment too soon for parents, but they also ring for all of us whose jobs include communicating with others. Public speaking, staff meetings and sometime the Board Room full of suits are all on our radar. Many of us have presentations outside our comfort zones and that's why our Present-To-Win skills training have become so critical. No better place to start on presentation skills than with all the trouble that the folks at Apple have had with those pesky new iPhone 4 phones.

The Good...
The world seemed to have caught the Steve Jobs press conference as it quickly shot to the top of twitter et al. Here was a CEO coming on stage to “defend” his product and his company. The worst possible position. Did Jobs crawl out on the stage and beg forgiveness. Hardly.

FastCompany Magazine took a hard look at what happened when the company finally responded to the near-universal criticism of its latest gadget's antenna problems. On stage, Steve Jobs didn't offer a solution to the iPhone's reception issues (outside of a free bumper), and he never once offered an apology (even refusing during the QandA to apologize to investors). FastCompany went on, “instead, Jobs delivered a crystal-clear presentation that reminded the world--even the pissed-off fan boys who created this backlash--why Apple is Apple. Because Apple is known for, if nothing else, having rabid, rabid evangelistic fans who believe in the company and their products.” The key word here is “believe”.

Almost as important as “what” Steve said was “how” he said it and thus effective presentation skills become our theme as we look at how we communicate some of the most critical information of our careers.

Forget bullet points—it's all about the message, Jobs only uses succinct phrases, and even his slide with the most words contained just fewer than 30 --and that was the summary of his whole presentation. "No bullet points," insists author and social media scientist Dan Zarrella. "Basically you want to have one-thought per slide." "His slide design is image, and then text, which is not only short and quotable, but even if it's taken out of the context of his presentation, it still makes sense," notes Zarrella. Apple has certainly perfected its slide design.

If there was one theme for Jobs's entire presentation, it was, “We love our users (customers).” In four different slides, it was the message with a subhead identifying other themes.

What can we learn from this? That is the way one of the master presenters in the business world today handles a crisis that in many other hands would be a four-alarm fire. Steve just reminded everyone that Apple knew who brought them to the dance and they weren't leaving. Great job but now, but for something completely different from another CEO with a different ending – see my next post on bad presentations with a few tips on making them better.

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